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Italy's 5-Star in turmoil as founder lambasts former PM Conte

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Italy's co-ruling 5-Star Movement was thrown into turmoil on Tuesday after its founder Beppe Grillo said the man primed to become its next leader, former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (pictured), was not up to the job, writes Crispian Balmer, Reuters.

"Conte...has neither political vision nor managerial skills. He has no experience of organisations and no capacity for innovation," Grillo wrote in a blog that looked certain to doom the ex-premier's efforts to revive the divided group.

Conte agreed to take the reins of 5-Star after his coalition government collapsed in February, but his plans to relaunch the struggling party have been delayed by internal disputes, triggered in part by his demand that Grillo relinquish control.

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An increasingly exasperated Conte set out his conditions for taking charge on Monday, saying Grillo had to decide whether to be a "generous father who lets his child grow up or a bullying father who prevents his child's emancipation".

Within 24 hours Grillo hit back, saying Conte wanted to subvert the maverick, anti-system nature of the 5-Star.

"We cannot let a movement born to spread direct and participatory democracy turn into a one-man party governed by a seventeenth-century statute," he wrote.

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There was no immediate response from Conte, who was a little known lawyer with no party affiliation when he was plucked from obscurity to become head of a coalition government following inconclusive elections in 2018.

He remained in charge when 5-Star switched coalition partners the following year, becoming one of Italy's most popular leaders as his confidence grew.

Many 5-Star parliamentarians had hoped that this popularity would help their own party bounce back in the polls.

The group defeated all its rivals in 2018, taking 32% of the vote, but since then its image has been undermined by policy U-turns and internal feuding and it is now polling at around 16%, making it Italy's fourth largest party.

Conte had said he wanted to give the formerly anti-establishment protest movement a more traditional, moderate face as part of his efforts to form a stable alliance with the centre-left Democratic Party. Read more.

Grillo, an outspoken comic, worried that Conte wanted to transform his group into a traditional party, peopled by slick, professional politicians.

Climate change

Major climate conference comes to Glasgow in November

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Leaders from 196 countries are meeting in Glasgow in November for a major climate conference. They are being asked to agree action to limit climate change and its effects, like rising sea levels and extreme weather. More than 120 politicians and heads of state are expected for the three-day world leaders' summit at the start of the conference. The event, known as COP26, has four main objections, or “goals”, including one that goes under the heading, 'work together to deliver' writes journalist and former MEP Nikolay Barekov.

The idea behind the fourth COP26 goals is that the world can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together.

So, at COP26 leaders are encouraged to finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational) and also accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.

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Businesses are also keen to see action taken in Glasgow. They want clarity that governments are moving strongly towards achieving net-zero emissions globally across their economies.

Before looking at what four EU countries are doing to meet the fourth COP26 goal, it  is perhaps worth rewinding briefly to December 2015 when world leaders gathered in Paris to map out a vision for a zero-carbon future. The result was the Paris Agreement, an historic breakthrough in the collective response to climate change. The Agreement set long-term goals to guide all nations: limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and make efforts to hold warming to 1.5 degrees C; strengthen resilience and enhance abilities to adapt to climate impacts and direct financial investment into low emissions and climate-resilient development.

To meet these long-term goals, negotiators set out a timetable in which each country is expected to submit updated national plans every five years for limiting emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. These plans are known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs.

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Countries gave themselves three years to agree on the implementation guidelines — colloquially called the Paris Rulebook — to execute the Agreement.

This website has looked closely at what four EU member states – Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey – have, and are, doing to tackle climate change and, specifically, on meeting the objectives of Goal No 4.

According to a spokesman for the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water, Bulgaria is “over-achieved” when it comes to some climate targets at national level for 2016:

Take, for example, the share of biofuels which, according to latest estimates, accounts for some 7.3% of total energy consumption in the country’s transport sector. Bulgaria has, it is claimed, also exceeded national targets for the share of renewable energy sources in its gross final energy consumption.

Like most countries, it is being impacted by global warming and forecasts suggest that monthly temperatures are expected to increase by 2.2°C in the 2050s, and 4.4°C by the 2090s.

While some progress has been made in certain areas, much more still has to be done, according to a major 2021 study on  Bulgaria by the World Bank.

Among a long list of recommendations by the  Bank to Bulgaria is one that specifically targets Goal No 4. It urges Sophia to “increase participation of the public, scientific institutions, women and local communities in planning and management, accounting for approaches and methods of gender equity, and increase urban resilience.”

In nearby Romania, there is also a firm commitment to fighting climate change and pursuing low carbon development.

The EU's binding climate and energy legislation for 2030 requires Romania and the other 26 member states to adopt national energy and climate plans (NECPs) for the 2021-2030 period. Last October 2020, the European Commission published an assessment for each NECP.

Romania's final NECP said that more than half (51%) of Romanians expect national governments to tackle climate change.

Romania generates 3% of the EU-27's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduced emissions faster than the EU average between 2005 and 2019, says the commission.

With several energy-intensive industries present in Romania, the country's carbon intensity is much higher than the EU average, but also “decreasing rapidly.”

Energy industry emissions in the country fell by 46% between 2005 and 2019, reducing the sector's share of total emissions by eight percentage points. But emissions from the transport sector increased by 40% over the same period, doubling that sector's share of total emissions.

Romania still relies to a great extent on fossil fuels but renewables, along with nuclear energy and gas are seen as essential to the transition process. Under EU effort-sharing legislation, Romania was allowed to increase emissions until 2020 and must reduce these emissions by 2% relative to 2005 by 2030. Romania achieved a 24.3% share of renewable energy sources in 2019 and the country's 2030 target of a 30.7% share is focused mainly on wind, hydro, solar and fuels from biomass.

A source at Romania’s embassy to the EU said that energy efficiency measures centre on heating supply and building envelopes along with industrial modernisation.

One of the EU nations most directly impacted by climate change is Greece which has this summer seen several devastating forest fires which have ruined lives and hit its vital tourist trade.

 Like most EU countries, Greece supports a carbon neutrality objective for 2050. Greece's climate mitigation targets are largely shaped by EU targets and legislation. Under EU effort sharing, Greece is expected to reduce non-EU ETS (emission trading system) emissions by 4% by 2020 and by 16% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

Partly in response to wildfires that burned more than 1,000 square kilometers (385 square miles) of forest on the island of  Evia and in southern Greece fires, the Greek government has recently created a new ministry to address the impact of climate change and named former European Union commissioner Christos Stylianides as minister.

Stylianides, 63, served as commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management between 2014 and 2019 and will head firefighting, disaster relief and policies to adapt to rising temperatures resulting from climate change. He said: “Disaster prevention and preparedness is the most effective weapon we have.”

Greece and Romania are the most active among European Union member states in Southeast Europe on climate change issues, while Bulgaria is still trying to catch up with much of the EU, according to a report on the implementation of the European Green Deal published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). In its recommendations on how countries can add value to the impact of the European Green Deal, the ECFR says that Greece, if it wants to establish itself as a green champion, should team up with the “less ambitious” Romania and Bulgaria, which share some of its climate-related challenges. This, the report says, could push Romania and Bulgaria to adopt best green transition practices and join Greece in climate initiatives.

Another of the four countries we’ve put under the spotlight –Turkey – has also been badly hit by the consequences of global warming, with a series of devastating floods and fires this summer. Extreme weather incidents have been on the rise since 1990, according to the Turkish State Meteorological Service (TSMS). In 2019,Turkey had 935 extreme weather incidents, the highest in recent memory,” she noted.

Partly as a direct response, the Turkish government has now introduced new measures to curb the impact of climate change, including the Fight Against Climate Change Declaration.

Again, this directly targets Goal No. 4 of the upcoming COP26 conference in  Scotland as the declaration is the result of discussions with - and contributions from - scientists and nongovernmental organizations to Turkish government efforts to address the issue.

The declaration involves an action plan for an adaptation strategy to global phenomenon, support for environmentally friendly production practices and investments, and the recycling of waste, among other steps.

On renewable energy Ankara also plans to increase electricity generation from those sources in the coming years and to set up a Climate Change Research Centre. This is designed to shape policies on the issue and conduct studies, along with a climate change platform where studies and data on climate change will be shared – again all in line with COP26’s Goal No 4.

Conversely, Turkey is yet to sign the 2016 Paris Agreement but First lady Emine Erdoğan has been a champion of environmental causes.

Erdoğan said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to the fight against climate change and that several key steps now need to be taken on the issue, from switching to renewable energy sources to cutting dependency on fossil fuels and redesigning cities.

In a nod to COP26’s fourth goal, she has also underlined that the role of individuals is more important.

Looking ahead to COP26, European commission president Ursula von der Leyen says that “when it comes to climate change and the nature crisis, Europe can do a lot”.

Speaking on 15 September in a state of the union address to MEPs, she said: “And it will support others. I am proud to announce today that the EU will double its external funding for biodiversity, in particular for the most vulnerable countries. But Europe cannot do it alone. 

“The COP26 in Glasgow will be a moment of truth for the global community. Major economies – from the US to Japan – have set ambitions for climate neutrality in 2050 or shortly after. These need now to be backed up by concrete plans in time for Glasgow. Because current commitments for 2030 will not keep global warming to 1.5°C within reach.Every country has a responsibility. The goals that President Xi has set for China are encouraging. But we call for that same leadership on setting out how China will get there. The world would be relieved if they showed they could peak emissions by mid-decade - and move away from coal at home and abroad.”

She added: “But while every country has a responsibility, major economies do have a special duty to the least developed and most vulnerable countries. Climate finance is essential for them - both for mitigation and adaptation.In Mexico and in Paris, the world committed to provide $100 billion dollars a year until 2025. We deliver on our commitment. Team Europe contributes $25bn dollars per year. But others still leave a gaping hole towards reaching the global target.”

The president went on, “Closing that gap will increase the chance of success at Glasgow. My message today is that Europe is ready to do more. We will now propose an additional €4bn for climate finance until 2027. But we expect the United States and our partners to step up too. Closing the climate finance gap together – the US and the EU – would be a strong signal for global climate leadership. It is time to deliver.”

So, with all eyes firmly fixed on Glasgow, the question for some is whether Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey will help trail a blaze for the rest of Europe in tackling what many still regard as the biggest threat to mankind.

Nikolay Barekov is a political journalist and TV presenter, former CEO of TV7 Bulgaria and a former MEP for Bulgaria and former deputy chairman of the ECR group in the European Parliament.

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Colombia: EU and Colombia open a new chapter to strengthen bilateral relations

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The EU and Colombia agreed on a 'Memorandum of Understanding on an Agenda of enhanced political and sectoral dialogue and cooperation for the next decade', signed by High Representative Josep Borrell (pictured) and the Vice-President and Foreign Minister of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez in New York, in the presence of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Republic of Colombia President Iván Duque Márquez.

The Memorandum of Understanding highlights the importance of EU-Colombia relations and the intention to take forward and to deepen and strengthen our longstanding ties.

President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Colombia is a key ally of the European Union and a like-minded partner at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. Today, we committed to taking our relationship further: working jointly to address global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Closer engagement is also crucial on climate change and on the environment, and we agreed on an ambitious environmental agenda, as enshrined in the Green Deal and in Colombia's own policies.”

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High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell said: “We mark another milestone on the path towards ever deeper and broader EU relations with Colombia. This memorandum will not only allow us to strengthen our partnership, further strengthen our co-operation on foreign policy issues, but also opens the prospect of an ambitious new political framework for our relations. The implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, as contribution to global peace and security, will remain at the heart of our engagement.”

The Memorandum identifies five priorities to guide the development of EU-Colombia relations:

  • The successful implementation of the 2016 peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC as a contribution to global peace and stability;  
  • the ambitious agenda on the environment, climate change, resilience and biodiversity;
  • the economic and social agenda including the digital agenda that promotes sustainable and inclusive growth and economic, social and territorial cohesion in  the European Union and Colombia; 
  • the agenda of solidarity, around the Venezuelan refugee and migratory crisis and its impact on Colombia and the region as well as all facets of migration,  and;
  • the multilateral agenda and cooperation on global and regional foreign policy issues to strengthen multilateralism and a rules based global order.

Furthermore, the Memorandum lists 12 sectors where co-operation can be increased and/or expanded under the above priorities.

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Background

The EU has close and long-standing relations with Colombia. Colombia is an important partner in multilateralism, climate change and other key priorities such as peace and stability. The EU's support to the peace process (implementation of the 2016 peace agreement) is at the heart of the EU's engagement.

Milestones of the relationship include the 2013 Trade Agreement; a short-term visa waiver agreement (2015) and a Framework Participation Agreement to participate in EU-led CSDP missions (entry into force in 2020).

The EU is Colombia's third trade partner after the US and China, the largest source of FDI and an important development partner.)

More information

Memorandum of Understanding EU-Colombia

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German auto giants place their bets on hydrogen cars

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BMW iX5 Hydrogen is seen during Munich Auto Show, IAA Mobility 2021 in Munich, Germany, September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Battery power may be the frontrunner to become the car technology of the future, but don't rule out the underdog hydrogen, write Nick Carey, Christina Amann in Berlin and Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt.

That's the view of some major automakers, including BMW (BMWG.DE) and Audi (VOWG_p.DE), which are developing hydrogen fuel-cell passenger vehicle prototypes alongside their fleets of battery cars as part of preparations to abandon fossil fuels.

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They are hedging their bets, calculating that a change in political winds could shift the balance towards hydrogen in an industry shaped by early-mover Tesla's (TSLA.O) decision to take the battery-powered road to clean cars.

Global auto hub Germany is in sharp focus. It is already betting billions on hydrogen fuel in sectors like steel and chemicals to meet climate targets, and closely-fought elections this month could see the Greens enter the coalition government and further push the technology.

BMW is hydrogen's biggest proponent among Germany's carmakers, charting a path to a mass-market model around 2030. The company also has one eye on shifting hydrogen policies in Europe and in China, the world's largest car market.

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The Munich-based premium player has developed a hydrogen prototype car based on its X5 SUV, in a project already partly funded by the German government.

Jürgen Guldner, the BMW vice president who heads up the hydrogen fuel-cell car programme, told Reuters the carmaker would build a test fleet of close to 100 cars in 2022.

"Whether this (technology) is driven by politics or demand, we will be ready with a product," he said, adding that his team is already working to develop the next generation vehicles.

"We're on the verge of getting there and we're really convinced we'll see a breakthrough in this decade," he said.

VW's premium Audi brand told Reuters it had assembled a team of more than 100 mechanics and engineers who were researching hydrogen fuel cells on behalf of the whole Volkswagen group, and had built a few prototype cars.

Hydrogen is viewed as a sure bet by the world's biggest truckmakers, such as Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE) unit Daimler Truck, Volvo Trucks (VOLVb.ST) and Hyundai (005380.KS), because batteries are too heavy for long-distance commercial vehicles.

Yet fuel cell technology - where hydrogen passes through a catalyst, producing electricity - is for now too costly for mass-market consumer cars. Cells are complex and contain expensive materials, and although refuelling is quicker than battery recharging, infrastructure is more scarce.

The fact that hydrogen is so far behind in the race to the affordable market also means even some champions of the technology, like Germany's Greens, favour prioritising battery-powered passenger cars because they see them as the fastest way to reach their main goal of decarbonising transport.

The Greens do, however, back the use of hydrogen fuel for ships and planes and want to invest heavily in "green" hydrogen produced solely from renewable sources.

"Hydrogen will play a highly important role in the transport industry," said Stefan Gelbhaar, the party's transport policy spokesperson in the Bundestag.

Politics can be unpredictable though - diesel went from saint to sinner following Volkswagen's Dieselgate emissions-cheating scandal, which came to light in 2015. Some carmakers view hydrogen technology as an insurance policy as the EU targets an effective ban on fossil-fuel cars from 2035.

Last year Daimler said it would wind down production of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL, a hydrogen fuel-cell SUV, but a source familiar with company plans said the project could easily be revived if the European Commission or a German government with Green participation decide to promote hydrogen cars.

"We're focusing on (battery) electric first, but we're in close cooperation with our truck guys," said Jörg Burzer, Daimler's head of production, when asked about that approach.

"The technology is always available."

For years Japanese carmakers Toyota (7203.T), Nissan (7201.T) and Honda (7267.T), and South Korea's Hyundai, were alone in developing and pushing hydrogen fuel-cell cars, but now they have company.

China is expanding its hydrogen fuelling infrastructure, with several carmakers now working on fuel-cell cars, including Great Wall Motor (601633.SS), , which plans to develop hydrogen-powered SUVs.

The EU wants to build more hydrogen fuelling stations for commercial vehicles. Fitch Solutions auto analyst Joshua Cobb said the bloc was only likely to start pushing hydrogen passengers cars in two to three years' time, given it was still figuring out how to pay for its battery-electric car push and how to obtain enough "green" hydrogen from renewable sources.

But he added: "It's not out of bounds to think if the (German) Greens come into power they could accelerate the push to adopt regulations favouring hydrogen fuel-cell cars."

BMW's Guldner acknowledged hydrogen technology was too expensive to be viable for the consumer market today, but said costs would come down as trucking companies invested in the technology to bring fuel-cell vehicles to market at scale.

To demonstrate BMW's hydrogen X5 prototype, Guldner took Reuters for a spin at 180 km (112 miles) per hour on the autobahn near the carmaker's Munich headquarters and in a few minutes gave it enough fuel to run 500 km using a hydrogen gas pump at a Total petrol station.

Guldner said BMW saw hydrogen fuel-cell cars as "complementary" to its future battery electric model range, providing an alternative for customers who cannot charge at home, want to travel far and refuel swiftly. The motor in the hydrogen X5 is the same as BMW's all-electric iX.

"When the future is zero emissions, we believe having two answers is better than one," he added.

Yet Fitch Solutions' Cobb said that it would still take years before any European policy support for hydrogen-powered cars translated into significant sales.

Indeed, auto consultancy LMC forecasts that various uses of hydrogen - in commercial vehicles, aviation and energy storage - would spur its adoption in passenger cars, but over the longer term.

"We're just not going to get there any time soon," said LMC senior powertrain analyst Sam Adham. LMC estimates in 2030 hydrogen fuel-cell models will make up just 0.1% of sales in Europe, and sales will only take off after 2035.

There remain divisions about the technology's prospects in the global car industry, and even within auto groups.

VW's Audi unit might be researching fuel cells, for example, but Volkswagen group CEO Herbert Diess has been scathing about hydrogen-powered cars.

"The hydrogen car has proven NOT to be the solution to climate change," he said in a tweet this year. "Sham debates are a waste of time."

Stephan Herbst, general manager of Toyota in Europe, has a different view.

Speaking in his role as a member of the Hydrogen Council business group, which forecasts that hydrogen will power more than 400 million cars by 2050, Herbst said he was confident that now governments had set ambitious carbon-reduction targets, they would push hydrogen alongside battery electric cars.

"We strongly believe this is not a question of either or," he added. "We need both technologies."

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